October 1, 2017 Happy Birthday Michigan Stadium!

1927 Michigan Football Team | bigbluefootballhistory.com
The 1927 Michigan Football team was the first Wolverine team to play games in Michigan Stadium. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

The purpose of today’s blog is to wish “Happy Birthday” to Michigan Stadium. Yes, that wonderful structure came to life ninety-one seasons ago on October 1, 1927. The first game in Michigan Stadium history was also the first game of the 48th season of Wolverine football. The game was played on a wet, rainy day in Ann Arbor. Michigan defeated Ohio Wesleyan 33-0. It was the 270th win in Michigan Football history. What a historic event!

Fielding Yost Michigan Stadium 1927 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Athletic Director Fielding Yost (white shirt with hands on hips) carefully supervised the building of Michigan Stadium from 1926 to 1927. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

The opponent Ohio Wesleyan – was a former employer of Fielding Yost. In fact, it was his first college coaching job. Coach Yost was only 26-years old when he was hired by the Ohio school in 1897. He led his team to an excellent record of 7 wins, 1 loss and 1 tie. Interestingly, the tie (0-0) was recorded in Ann Arbor against Gustave Ferbert’s Wolverines. Mr. Yost decided that the team from Ohio had a special place in his heart. So, he invited the “Bishops” to participate in the first game in the history of his magnificent stadium.

The ugly weather probably scared off all but the most “serious” fans. The crowd is “officially” listed as 17,483 in Michigan’s Football archives at the Bentley Historical Library. Apparently, a large number of Boy Scouts and other young people were admitted free to the game so the crowd was bigger than listed (See picture below). However, it was not a full house. Yost determined that the “official” dedication game would be played on October 22, 1927. Obviously, lots of fans were waiting for the really “big day” before they showed up.

So, the “star” of the day was Yost’s new “football house.” Two-time All-American Bennie Oosterbaan was the team captain and men like Otto Pommerening, Ray Baer, and Bill Puckelwartz were getting all the pre-season headlines. New coach Tad Wieman, was also getting plenty of media attention. However, the player of the game was a relatively unknown player named Louis Matthew Gilbert. He played in the shadow of All-Americans Bennie Friedman and Bennie Oosterbaan in 1925 and 1926.

Michigan Stadium Opening Day on October 1, 1927 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Michigan Stadium on Opening Day, October 1, 1927. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

Senior halfback Louis Gilbert captured everyone’s attention in the first game in the history of Michigan Stadium. Gilbert had a hand in every point that was scored in this game. He threw a 15-yard pass to Laverne “Kip” Taylor who scored the first touchdown in Michigan Stadium history! But, Gilbert wasn’t done. He scored two touchdowns, kicked three point-after-touchdowns, and threw two more touchdowns for a total of three on this historic day.

Things got even better for Louis Gilbert in the official dedication game against Ohio State on October 22, 1927. Gilbert scored the only touchdowns (three) in this historic game and also kicked three extra points that day. Final score: Louis Gilbert and the Wolverines 21, Ohio State 0! Too bad Michigan didn’t play more games against Ohio teams in 1927!

Louis Gilbert’s name is associated with many important football “firsts” at Michigan Stadium:

  • Gilbert played on the first Michigan team to play in Michigan Stadium starting on October 1, 1927.
  • Louis Gilbert threw the first touchdown pass in Michigan Stadium history to LaVerne “Kip” Taylor which was also the first six points scored on that historic day.
  • Gilbert also kicked the first point-after-touchdown kick in Michigan Stadium history.
  • Louis Gilbert was also the first man to score two touchdowns in Michigan Stadium history.
  • Gilbert finished his amazing day with three touchdown passes which was also a Michigan Stadium first.
  • Louis Gilbert became the first man to return a kickoff for a touchdown when he hauled the second half kickoff 90-yards for a score.
  • Gilbert also scored the first “punt six” in Michigan Stadium when he picked up a blocked punt and ran into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day.
  • Louis Gilbert became the first man to score three touchdowns in one game at Michigan Stadium when he ran for one score and carried two Bennie Oosterbaan passes into the end zone on October 22, 1927.
Louis Gilbert Michigan Football 1927 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Ohio Wesleyan players chased Louis Gilbert all over the field on October 1, 1927, but didn’t catch him often enough. He had a hand in all 33 points of a historic Michigan win. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

Here are some other “firsts” that are connected to this important day in Michigan Football History.

  • Tad Wieman became the first man to coach a Michigan Football team in Michigan Stadium on October 1, 1927. He was also the first coach to win a game in Michigan Stadium.
  • This game marked the first time that two live (caged) wolverines, named “Benny” and “Biff” appeared at a Michigan Football game. (Note-the animals were actually quite vicious and didn’t seem to help things on the field. Yost gave up on this idea after a few years and sent the animals to the zoo! So much for “live” mascots at Michigan.)

So, today is a great day to appreciate the vision of Fielding Harris Yost. Michigan Stadium began as an idea and grew into a legendary structure that has stood the test of time. Thank you, Mr. Yost for your vision and for the persistence that you showed in bringing your “dream” to fruition.

Yes, “Happy Birthday” wishes are definitely in order for The Big House today. It is also important to remember Louis Gilbert and his contributions to the early history of Michigan Stadium. A more detailed article about the life of Louis Gilbert can be found at the link below:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Gilbert

 

 

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher

Barry Gallagher is a self-proclaimed Michigan Football Archeologist. He spends a considerable amount of his time digging into the 138-year history of Wolverine Football. He is on a mission to share his findings with Maize and Blue football fans everywhere. He is the author of one book about Michigan Football titled "21-194-13 Michigan Football's Greatest Era". His second book titled, "The Legend of Bo Schembechler-How an Unknown Buckeye Became the Winningest Coach in Michigan Football History" was released on September 12, 2017. You can learn something about Michigan Football everyday by going to his website at: bigbluefootballhistory.com. You can also follow him on Social Media.
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